History of Early Islam

The time of early Islam was a period of fast growth of the Islamic empire. It was also a phase of free thinking and scientific development for Muslims. Early Islam started with Muhammad, the founder, in 610 and the period came to an end with the death of the last successor of Muhammad in 661.

Prophet of Islam

According to traditional Islam, Muhammad received his first messages from the angel Gabriel in 610. He compiled all messages till his death in a book called the Qur’an. Muhammad was not only the Prophet of Islam and religious leader, he was also a statesman and a general. Because of persecution, Muhammad had to escape from Mecca to Medina. Muslims call it Hijra, which means migration. In Medina, Muhammad developed some social and political guidance for community life, the Ummah. He started a military campaign to conquer Mecca. In 632 with an Islamic empire that contained almost all the Arabian peninsula. Side effect of the military actions was that the peaceful image of Islam from the early period in Mecca was damaged: “For do prophets come with sword and chariot? These are the works of confusion today" [1].

First caliph Abu Bakr Siddiq

Muhammad was succeeded by caliphs. The Arabic word “Khalifah” means successor. A caliph is a political and religious successor of Muhammad as charismatic leader and to protect the Islamic tradition as an institute [2]. The period of the first four caliphs is known as the caliphate Rashidun, “the Rightly Guided Rulers” [3]. The first caliph was Abu Bakr. He was born in 573 in Mecca and had the title ‘Al-Siddiqu” from Muhammad, which means “The truthful”. He was the father-in-law of Muhammad. He accepted Islam when he returned from a business trip to Yemen. Abu Bakr was the first Islamic preacher after Muhammad.

Development of the Qur’an

After Muhammad’s there was a need to collect all messages into one book. In those days, the messages of Muhammad had been registered on paper, stones, palm-leaves, bones and leather. One of the tasks of Abu Bakr became the management of the Qur’an manuscripts. The existing Qur’an was only an early release, because historians doubt if the size was the same as the Qur’an we know today. This project had many challenges, because the data had been written on many different resources and it was a complicated task to search for the text from a variety of sources [4]. The activities were done by one of Muhammad’s most trusted secretaries: “Abu Bakr As-Siddiq sent for me when the people! of Yamama had been killed (i.e., a number of the Prophet's Companions who fought against Musailama). (I went to him) and found 'Umar bin Al-Khattab sitting with him. Abu Bakr then said (to me), "Umar has come to me and said: "Casualties were heavy among the Qurra' of the! Qur'an (i.e. those who knew the Qur'an by heart) on the day of the Battle of Yalmama, and I am afraid that more heavy casualties may take place among the Qurra' on other battlefields, whereby a large part of the Qur'an may be lost. Therefore I suggest, you (Abu Bakr) order that the Qur'an be collected." I said to 'Umar, "How can you do something which Allah's Apostle did not do?" 'Umar said, "By Allah, that is a good project. "Umar kept on urging me to accept his proposal till Allah opened my chest for it and I began to realize the good in the idea which 'Umar had realized." Then Abu Bakr said (to me). 'You are a wise young man and we do not have any suspicion about you, and you used to write the Divine Inspiration for Allah's Apostle. So you should search for (the fragmentary scripts of) the Qur'an and collect it in one book)." By Allah If they had ordered me to shift one of the mountains, it would not have been heavier for me than this ordering me to collect the Qur'an. Then I said to Abu Bakr, "How will you do something which Allah's Apostle did not do?" Abu Bakr replied, "By Allah, it is a good project." Abu Bakr kept on urging me to accept his idea until Allah opened my chest for what He had opened the chests of Abu Bakr and 'Umar. So I started looking for the Qur'an and collecting it from (what was written on) palmed stalks, thin white stones and also from the men who knew it by heart, till I found the last Verse of Surat At-Tauba (Repentance) with Abi Khuzaima Al-Ansari, and I did not find it with anybody other than him. The Verse is: 'Verily there has come unto you an Apostle (Muhammad) from amongst yourselves. It grieves him that you should receive any injury or difficulty. (till the end of Surat-Baraa' (At-Tauba) (9.128-129) Then the complete manuscripts (copy) of the Qur'an remained with Abu Bakr till he died, then with 'Umar till the end of his life, and then with Hafsa, the daughter of 'Umar.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 61, Number 509)

Expansion of the Islamic state

The power of the message of the Qur’an was not sufficient to hold the tribes together won over by Muhammad. Military forces were needed and military victories helped to get a breakthrough for Islam [5]. Abu Bakr succeeded in persuading many friends, family members and close associates to be converted to Islam. The growth of the Muslim population was required to support the extension of the Islamic state from desert territory to the more advanced cultures of Byzantium and Persia. Abu Bakr supported initiatives to plunder rich areas in Syria, Iraq and Iran by raids (ghazawat) and surprise attacks. Abu Bakr sent his best general, Khalid ubn al-Walid, nicknamed “sword of God”, from Iraq to Palestina to fight against the army of Byzantium. The Islamic military actions were a success, because of it was presented as a war for “God’s cause” (jihad) against the unbelievers [6]. Some verses in the Qur’an gave motivation for an individual Muslim warrior (Qur’an 9:5, 9:29). Abu Bakr started wars of riddah (apostasy) when the Bedouin tribes wanted to leave the Islamic state. He managed to unify Arabia.

Religious and social activities

Abu Bakr declared in the mosque after Muhammad’s death: “Whoever worships God, God is alive and immortal; whoever worships Muḥammad, Muḥammad is dead.” He then recited the verse: “Muḥammad is only a messenger; and many a messenger has gone before him”. Abu Bakr was a responsible leader and honest in financial business, because did not take money from the state for his won benefits. His activities contributed to unity of the Islamic state and loyalty to leadership. Abu Bakr sponsored with his own budget a mosque and was the leader of prayer meetings for the congregation. He solved the division, anger and chaos in the Muslim community after the death of Muhammad

Second caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab

Umar was born in 583 in Mecca. His father was Khattab Bin Nufayl, an educated business man. Before he became a Muslim, he was a persecutor of Islam and he even had plans to kill Muhammad. Umar has used violence against his sister and her husband, because they had accepted Islam. After a meeting with Muhammad, Umar became a Muslim in 616. His decision gave Muslims more trust to practice Islam in Mecca. Because of his devout religious and just nature, Muhammad gave him the title “Al Faruq”, meaning one who is able to know the difference between right and wrong. Umar was one of the first Muslims who migrated in 622 to Medina. He was a friend of Muhammad and gave his daughter Hafsah to him for marriage. After every battle for Islam Umar joined, he was growing as a military warfare leader. Umar succeeded Abu Bakr in 634 as the second caliph. He was killed by Abu-Luluah, a non-Muslim in 644.

Expansion of the Islamic empire

Umar increased the number of lucrative ghazu raids in rich non-Muslim countries, because Arab tribes were not allowed to other Arab Muslim tribes within the Islamic empire. It helped to get rewards for Muslim soldiers. With the united tribes in Arabia, Umar was able as great conqueror to increase the Islamic empire from Mesopotamia to parts of Palestine, Syria, North Africa and Armenia. He conquered Jerusalem in 637. An agreement was signed with the Jews to live in Jerusalem. However, Umar commanded the removal of Jews and Christians in the cities of Najran border and Khaybar (Western Saudi Arabia).

Religious reforms

He organized the renovation of the mosques in Mecca and Medina and many others. Umar initiated administrative reforms in Islam. For example documentation of Islamic laws and practices. Umar introduced the date for the Hijira of Muhammad as start of the Islamic calendars. He promoted family values and an ascetic lifestyle. He was hard against usage of alcohol. Umar Bin Khattah also continued to compile the Qur’an. In 644, he ordered to collect the whole collection of messages.

Third caliph Uthman Bin Affan

Uthman was born in 573 in the wealthy noble Umayyad family in Mecca. He took over the business and properties of his father and became very prosperous, but modest and sincere. Abu Bakr introduced Uthman to Islam and he went to Muhammad to confirm his decision. All his wives disapproved his conversion to Islam and left him. Uthman married two daughters of Muhammad. After the death of Umar, he succeeded him as third caliph. He was killed in 656 by unsatisfied Muslim soldiers at the age of 82 years.

Compilation of the Qur’an as a book

Uthman appointed a commission for the revision of the Qur’an when he became aware that new Muslims did not agree how to reading and recite the Qur’an in a correct way. The reason was the Arabic dialect differences between Muslims [7]. However there were also political reasons, because the aim of Uthman was part of a centralizing strategy for unity in the Islamic empire, established by Muhammad as a collection of tribe territories. In 650 Uthman wanted to have a standard version of the Qur’an: “Hudhaifa bin Al-Yaman came to Uthman at the time when the people of Sham and the people of Iraq were Waging war to conquer Arminya and Adharbijan. Hudhaifa was afraid of their (the people of Sham and Iraq) differences in the recitation of the Qur'an, so he said to 'Uthman, "O chief of the Believers! Save this nation before they differ about the Book (Quran) as Jews and the Christians did before." So 'Uthman sent a message to Hafsa saying, "Send us the manuscripts of the Qur'an so that we may compile the Qur'anic materials in perfect copies and return the manuscripts to you." Hafsa sent it to 'Uthman. 'Uthman then ordered Zaid bin Thabit, 'Abdullah bin AzZubair, Said bin Al-As and 'AbdurRahman bin Harith bin Hisham to rewrite the manuscripts in perfect copies. 'Uthman said to the three Quraishi men, "In case you disagree with Zaid bin Thabit on any point in the Qur'an, then write it in the dialect of Quraish, the Qur'an was revealed in their tongue." They did so, and when they had written many copies, 'Uthman returned the original manuscripts to Hafsa. 'Uthman sent to every Muslim province one copy of what they had copied, and ordered that all the other Qur'anic materials, whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, be burnt. Said bin Thabit added, "A Verse from Surat Ahzab was missed by me when we copied the Qur'an and I used to hear Allah's Apostle reciting it. So we searched for it and found it with Khuzaima bin Thabit Al-Ansari. (That Verse was): 'Among the Believers are men who have been true in their covenant with Allah.' (33.23)” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 61, Number 510) The outcome was the standardized version of the Qur’an, also called Uthman version. It is a single codex (mushaf wahid), completed between 650 and 656. The new standard Qur’an was distributed to all areas of the Islamic empire [8]. Uthman’s act of bringing together of the Qur’an set an example of political and religious centralization. Uthman’s action set a precedent for future caliphal attempts to codify Islamic law and religious sciences. [9]. Abdullah ibn Masud, who was appointed by the Prophet of Islam to teach the Qur’an, disagreed with the new standard Qur’an: “'Abdullah bin 'Amr mentioned 'Abdullah bin Masud and said, "I shall ever love that man, for I heard the Prophet saying, 'Take (learn) the Qur'an from four: 'Abdullah bin Masud, Salim, Mu'adh and Ubai bin Ka'b.' "” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 61, Number 521) “The Prophet said to me, "Recite Quran to me." I said to him. "Shall I recite (it) to you while it has been revealed to you?" He said, "I like to hear it from another person."” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 61, Number 576) As caliph, Uthman was able to overrule Ibn Masud’s protest against the new Qur’an edition with political power: “his work was no matter of removing dialectical peculiarities in reading but was a necessary stroke of policy to establish a standard text for the whole empire … there is evidence that for quire a while the Muslims in Kufa were divided into two factions, those who accepted the Uthmanic text, and those who stood by Ibn Masud, who had refused his codex to be burned… there can be little doubt that the text canonized by Uthman was only one among the several types of text in existence at the time” [10] The Qur’an of Ibn Masud was used in prayer meetings and communicated as authorized edition. It is evidence that there have been more Qur’an versions than only the Uthman version. Ibn Masud’s version of the Qur’an could have been the most used one without Uthman forced action [11]

Military, social and economical activities

Uthman conquered new territory for Islam. Muslim armies reached the Northern part of Africa and parts of Pakistan. However in conquered areas most people were Jews, Christian or Zoroastrians and they were in the times of the caliphs not forced to accept Islam, because Islam was considered as a local religion. Muslims assumed that Islam was a religion for the descendants of Ismail, as Judaism was the faith of the sons of Isaac [12]. Uthman commanded the Muslim soldiers to plunder less than before. He invested in education by setting up a library for the Muslims. Uthman trained many Muslims for business activities. This made them wealthy. He inspired Muslims to support military warfare, infrastructure and agricultural development. However, he gave priority to support his Umayyad family above others. This was against the practices of the Prophet of Islam. Uthman improved the state administration from a federation to a centralized form with provinces, districts and cities. The focus of Uthman on his family gave unrest to others which led to a civil war and his death.

Fourth caliph Ali Bin Abutalib

Ali Bin Abu Talib was born in 600 as the Prophet of Islam’s cousin. Muhammad took Ali in his childhood from his father Abu Talib and cared for him. Ali married Fatima, a daughter of Muhammad. Ali was a young teener when Muhammad received his first messages. He was one of Muhammad’s first converts and joined as a good soldier the Muslim army in all battles. When Uthman was killed in 656, many people supported the election of Ali as fourth caliph. Because the civil war according to him was because of incompetent governors, he replaced all governors.

Civil war between Muslims

Muawiya, the governor of Syria didn’t follow Ali’s orders. He belonged to a group with Muhammad’s widow Aisha who asked Ali to punish the murders of Uthman. Ali opposed the plan to punish without evidence and the conflict escalated to a civil war. For the first time Islamic armies were fighting against each other. Such a civil war was not thinkable in the time of the Prophet of Islam [13]. Later Aisha realized that she was wrong. The situation in Hijaz was not safe enough for Ali and therefore he moved his capital to Al-Naja, near Kufa in Iraq. The city became his capital and it was a great center for teaching. Because Ali lost some regions, he was not able to expand the Islamic empire.

Religious, social and economical activities

Ali lived an humble life and had great generosity. Ali used the guidance of the Qur’an and the practices of Muhammad (Sunnah) in his life. He also set standards for moral conduct and was a source of inspiration for religious actions. Ali showed human concern in such a way that the result was that more people became a Muslim. A fanatical group, called Kharijites, had the opinion that Ali, Muawiya and the Egyptian governor Anr bin-Aas were all not good enough as caliph and wanted to live without a central ruler. This issues exists in Islam till today. Muslims are split over the position of Ali. An important part of Islam today, the Shi’at Ali (Ali’s party), known as Shiah or Shiites. They believe that Ali is the supreme imam. The Sunni’s believe that Muhammad wanted to limit Ali, because he was too strict and therefore unpopular [14].

The end of the Rashidun caliphate

With the death of Ali in 661, the early and most important period in the history of Islam came to an end. His son Hasan resigned as caliph and declared authority for the Islamic empire to Muawiya in July 661. For most Muslims, it was a golden age: a time when the world of Islam was still on order, the community was one, guided by the spirit of the Qur’an, first by Muhammad and then by “rightly guided” caliphs [15].